Upon re-reading The Hockey Sweater written by Roch Carrier and illustrated by Sheldon Cohen, I was immediately reminded of why this children’s book is considered one of the greatest example of Canadian children’s literature to date. On a personal level, it genuinely provided me an intense feeling of nostalgia, as I vividly remember the first time I heard it read by our elementary school librarian at story time. It was originally published in french in 1979 under the title “Une abominable feuille d’érable sur la glace” and then re-released in english, as “The Hockey Sweater“in 1984.
Even with the story based in rural Quebec in 1946, a very unique location with respect to Canadian culture, this is a timeless, unifying tale, rare in Canadian literature, as every child and adult who grew up in this country, regardless of the province they lived in or their first language, can relate to it on multiple levels. More importantly, this remains as true today in 2015 as it did back in 1979 when it was first published. Within a country as large and diverse as Canada, promoting and maintaining a strong national identity can be very challenging so stories like this, which bring us together, deserve to be cherished.
Perhaps its greatest achievement is how the story subtly identifies important aspects of Canadian culture; the prominence of ice hockey as our national game, the large role of religion in society, growing up through hard winters, and most notably, the relationship between English-speaking Canada and French-speaking Canada. According to Carrier, he created this story as part of his reaction to Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, and the growing Quebecois movement for the province to separate from Canada in the 1970s.
Legend has it that the story book was also in part born to an Interview Carrier had agreed to do for the CBC. Carrier who had achieved success recently with both French and English Canadians, was asked to try and explain to the English speaking population of Canada what the Quebecois’s reason was for wanting to separate. He had reportedly worked on what to say for weeks but was not happy with anything he had written, so in an attempt to dodge the topic to a certain extent and fill the time slot of the interview he told stories of his childhood in Saint-Justine, Quebec, and the obsession he and his friends had with the Montreal Canadiens and their star player, Maurice ‘The Rocket’ Richard, this was what eventually turned into The Hockey Sweater story.
Definitely ironic how such a classic of Canadian literature, perhaps best known children’s book across the country for promoting a national identity, was born out of the author’s reluctance to address the most polarizing topic in Canadian culture; the relationship between English-speaking Canada and French-speaking Canada. However, as great authors of fiction often do, Carrier expressed his position in a subtle yet effective way through this celebrated children’s story, with Canadian culture being the beneficiary.
A year after publication the NFB brought it to life in an animated short called “The Sweater” it was named the Best Animated Film at the 1981 British Academy Film Awards.
To relate to its place in Canadian culture The Hockey Sweater was also interpreted by the Toronto Symphonic Orchestra (TSO) in 2012
Carrier, R. & Cohen, S. (1984). The hockey sweater. Montreal, Quebec, Tundra Books.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hockey_Sweater [accessed 13-12-15]